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June Update: Assessment Principles

Orlando Train Station By DanTD - Own work, CC BY 3.0At ALA in Orlando on June 24 and 25, the final cohort of ACRL’s Assessment in Action team leaders will present the results of their assessment projects. This will be the culmination of 15 months of work that they have done on their own campuses and in our community of learners. For me, it will also be the culmination of about three and a half years of collaboration with Deb Gilchrist, Lisa Hinchliff, Carrie Donovan, and Kara Malenfant--as well as John Watts and Eric Resnis who joined the team in 2015.  I have been a facilitator and curriculum developer for Assessment in Action since the first cohort began in 2013, and I have learned so much about assessment by working with librarians as they designed and implemented their projects.  

In particular, I have learned about the value of thinking carefully about my institutional culture and norms when I am weighing different methods of assessment.  Since there is no single right answer to the question of what type of assessment method or instrument we should use, the best guidance I have found has been to ask the question: “What will result in findings that we can use to ask new questions about our practice and that we can make meaningful to our colleagues?”  Keeping my institution’s priorities in mind helps me to manage the sometimes overwhelming variety of approaches to assessing learning.

I have also learned that perseverance and a willingness to treat assessment as serious play will make it possible for librarians to sustain assessment projects over time.  We all know that assessment is not a one-and-done activity, no matter how well designed, and so it is important to see it as a puzzle that we’ll get better at creating and solving as we become more practiced.  The most important step to successful assessment is just to get started doing something, because the best assessments don’t just answer questions, they also raise new ones and that means that there’s never a final assessment project.  For the AiA team leaders, I know that the results they’re sharing at ALA are just the first step in an ongoing process of learning more about their own contributions to students’ success.

I keep Mary McAteer’s definition of assessment’s purpose close at hand when I am working on my own projects or advising others.  Our assessments should engage this vital question, over and over again:

  • “Do the consequences of my actions measure up to the educational principles and values that motivate my work?” (McAteer 2013).

Throughout my collaboration with Rick and Carolyn at Carrick Enterprises and the rest of the Threshold Achievement Test Advisory Board, McAteer’s question has driven me to create an instrument that is grounded in the educational principles and values that make me proud to be a librarian.  These are the same principles and values that I see inspiring the tireless work of the AiA team leaders as they make the final push to be ready to present the results of 15 months of work at ALA.  They are: 1) committing to learners as our first priority, 2) valuing the potential of information literacy to transform learners’ worldview and knowledge base, and 3) fulfilling the responsibility we have to meet learners’ expectations that we will know as much as we can about how they develop information literacy and we will apply that knowledge to do our best work.

For more information about the projects completed by the three years of Assessment in Action team leaders, visit ACRL’s website:

If you want more details about what the Threshold Achievement Test of Information Literacy is intended to measure, you can read our outcomes here: https://thresholdachievement.com/the-test/about-the-test/  We’ll be sharing our performance indicators, as well, when they’re finalized.  We hope that these will help librarians to facilitate discussions about Information Literacy assessment at their own institutions, whether they choose to use the test or not.

If you’re interested to read more by Mary McAteer, I recommend

  • McAteer, M. (2013). Action research in education. London: Sage.

Here's the CC license information for the image above: By DanTD - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3912504